Indian state's success not Modi's alone

Indian state's success not Modi's alone
BJP's prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi playing a dhol, an Indian musical instrument, during an election campaign rally in Mangaldoi.

The talk is of change and of a Modi hawa or wave that will sweep across India and the Congress government out of office when the results of the country's general election are out in the middle of next month.

By most pollster estimates, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is poised for a clear victory, and much credit for its resurgence is given to Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, its standard-bearer and the man most likely to be the next prime minister of India.

Mr Modi's appeal can be summed up in a story that has become famous. In 2008, minutes after Indian tycoon Ratan Tata abandoned his two-year effort to build the world's cheapest car in West Bengal following large-scale local protests, he received a one- word SMS from Mr Modi. "Suswagatham," it read, which means "welcome" in Sanskrit.

Fourteen months later, the first Tata Nano car rolled out of its Gujarat factory.

Mr Modi's national campaign plays on his achievements running Gujarat since he became chief minister in 2001.

In those 12 years, the state's gross domestic product (GDP) has expanded 9.9 per cent annually on average, up from 6.3 per cent previously. Gujarat's per capita income almost quadrupled from 2002 to last year. It has 5 per cent of India's population, but contributes 8 per cent of the total domestic output of all its states.

"NaMo" - as he is sometimes called - has promised to replicate the "Gujarat model" of industrial development and growth throughout India if he wins the election. "If Gujarat can, so can India", it says prominently on his personal website.

It is a powerful message for Indians fed up with a weakening economy under a lacklustre Congress government.

But amid great expectations over what "Modinomics" can do for India, it is worth noting that Gujarat's achievements are not Mr Modi's alone.

If one examines its past, as some Indian scholars have, there is evidence that Gujarat has historical advantages over other states which made economic success easier.

To start with, Gujarat was part of the Bombay Presidency that was under the direct rule of the British during the colonial era, when most other princely states were under indirect rule. The three "presidencies" - Bombay, Madras and Bengal - were the main centres of power for the British, and experienced early economic development and industrialisation.

A capitalist class thus emerged early in Gujarat and came to dominate politics as well. The Patidar caste were major landowners in rural areas, while the Banias and Brahmins had commercial, industrial and political power in the cities. Key politicians emerged from these three castes, and over time led to the intertwining of the political and economic elite.

Coupled with tame trade unions, the state government was primed to pursue pro-industrial and pro-business policies after independence. From 1960 to 1980, Gujarat grew from the eighth to second most industrialised state in India.

Gujarat's business-friendly leadership encouraged the growth of industralisation. It was also aided by a capable bureaucracy that emerged as early as the 1960s.

Business licences then were tightly controlled by the federal government, but Gujarat's bureaucrats and politicians knew their way around the federal central planners.

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